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Economy, Mining

Athabasca River, Mining Association of Canada, elemental sulfur, Prairie Provinces, midwestern United States

Mining in Canada has a long history of exploration and development. The mining industry employs 1.3 percent of the country’s workforce and accounts for 4 percent of the GDP and 19 percent of goods exported. Canada produces both fuel and nonfuel minerals; it is one of the world’s leading producers, and the world’s largest exporter, of nonfuel minerals. In 1995 nonfuel mineral production was C$17.4 billion or more than 40 percent of the total value of Canada’s mineral production. Exports of nonfuel minerals totaled C$23.4 billion. Almost 80 percent of these nonfuel mineral exports were destined for the United States, and about 11 percent went to the European Union or Japan. The remaining 9 percent went to nearly 90 other countries.

Canada is the world’s largest exporter of uranium, zinc, and potash; second largest producer of nickel, elemental sulfur, asbestos, and cadmium; and among the top five producers of platinum, gypsum, copper, lead, cobalt, titanium, and molybdenum. Much exploration and development activity in Canada is now devoted to diamond mining, especially in the Northwest Territories, the Prairie Provinces, and the Canadian Shield.

Fuel minerals—oil and natural gas—are also significant. In 1999, 957 million barrels of crude oil and 177 billion cu m (6.3 trillion cu ft) of natural gas were produced, and more than half of both amounts were exported. Canada is the world’s tenth largest exporter of oil, and the largest exporter of natural gas. Canada’s reserves of conventional oil are not particularly large—they are estimated at 9.4 billion barrels—but 300 billion barrels could be extracted from the oil sands around the Athabasca River. Analysts also believe that there are 7.2 trillion cubic meters (255 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas remaining in Canada.

Oil and gas production is centered mainly in Alberta. Pipelines transport Alberta’s crude oil and natural gas to the industrial centers of eastern Canada, to British Columbia, and to the northwestern and midwestern United States. In addition, oil and gas are shipped to refining centers throughout Canada and to the United States. The giant new Hibernia offshore oil project will tap an estimated 615 million barrels of oil. This is about as much as Canadians use in an average year. Located in the North Atlantic about 300 km (about 200 mi) from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Hibernia began production in November 1997.

Environmental and social concerns have caused uncertainty for the mining industry. The degradation of water quality by mine wastes, in particular, has led federal and provincial governments to regulate mine operations. In 1992 the Mining Association of Canada responded by establishing the Whitehorse Mining Initiative, a broad agreement to increase the level of environmental responsibility in the industry. The initiative was developed together with indigenous groups, environmentalists, and representatives of labor unions and government.

Another source of uncertainty in the industry is the denial of access to lands where mining claims are staked, or where bodies of ore are known to be located. For example, in British Columbia the creation of new parks, such as Tatshenshini-Alsek near Alaska, has closed large areas to mining. The land issues raised by the indigenous peoples have held up mining operations for years while ownership of the rights is being negotiated or litigated.

Article key phrases:

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